joined chest: till parts, paneled lid

till closed

Fitting the till parts inside a joined chest is one of the most time-consuming aspects of making these things. It takes a good deal of test fitting and fussing to get it right. there is a tendency to rush this part, many times I have made tills that I wasn’t happy with in the end. All in the name of impatience.

The sequence I use is to do the bottom first, then the side, then the lid last. I often make the bottoms and sides from white pine, and always make the till lid from oak. Almost always.

Here is a view of the till bottom fitted into notches in the front and rear stiles, and scribed and fitted against the beveled panels and muntin on the chest side. I made a two-part template from matboard, one part scribed to fit the front stile, and one for the rear. Then I overlaid them on the pine board using the muntin notch as a benchmark.

till bottom scribed & cut

The till side is easiest, and I didn’t scribe it to perfectly match the contours of the chest interior, close enough is OK.

For this till lid, I decided to notch the inner corner of the front stile so that the end of the till lid is a square cut, other than the pintle. I sawed and chiseled the notch, and bored the hole for the pintle. This hole is above and tangent to a line struck from the top edge of the till side.

front stile notched for square-ended till lid

For more about cutting tills, here’s an earlier take on the subject.

Now, this chest has its rear finished face inside the chest.

inside the chest, rear framing


I really like this format, it makes a nice surface in the chest when you’re rooting around in there. And it leaves all the scruffy bits against the wall, where no one sees them. But one challenge in this arrangement is that the rear stiles bump out beyond the back face of the upper rear rail.

rear stile thicker than rear rail

When it comes time to hinge the lid, you need to deal with these stiles. One way around this problem is to make rear stiles that are the same thickness as the rear rails. I have seen English chests do this, but not New England examples. Another way around this is to cut a notch in the top end of each rear stile. Like this: 


We’ll see this again when I install the hinges on this one. This chest is going to get a paneled lid. When I first started reading about 17th-century joined chests, paneled lids in New England work were perceived as being indications of “first-generation” workmen, those trained in old England. That might be so, but it’s a difficult notion to prove. What I can say for certain is that paneled lids take up a great deal of labor. A single-board pine lid is the quickest thing on earth. Plane it, cut it to length and width, and run a thumbnail molding along its perimeter. A multi-board oak lid is a lot of work too, riving and planing usually three long narrow oak boards, edge-jointing them & gluing it up. Then planing it as a whole. 

But the paneled lid is the most labor of all three versions. 

This one requires riving and preparing all those framing parts, cutting the joinery, test-fitting it, drawboring, and then cutting the panels, beveling them, and so on. Maybe those old guys were faster than me…it still takes me more than a day to make this lid I bet.


5 thoughts on “joined chest: till parts, paneled lid

  1. Peter, it looks like part of what makes this time consuming is scribing the bottom to the sides of the chest. Which would take longer, the way you do it today, or flattening the back on those 2 side panels? If the panels weren’t curved, I bet it would be faster to make the till.

    If the answer is ‘flattening the backs’ is faster, then, would it be authentic enough?

  2. peter, to make the till lid not rub against the back as it is opened do you make the pintle smaller or do you drill a larger diameter hole?

  3. Hi Peter. I notice the front of your till is square, IE vertical to the chest. Is this normal with American chests, as all the examples i have seen in the UK slope back a bit. this has always puzzled me a bit. any ideas as to why they did this?

    • Richard, thanks for the note. I have seen till (sides?/fronts?) done both ways over here. Send photos if you get any, I’d like to see the slanted tills. I always figured, based on next to nothing, that it just increases the opening where you are poking into the till by having that board lean over.

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